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When Daddy’s Been Drinking, Part Two

May04

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Hi Amy,

Firstly, I should warn you I’ve decided to write this in the heat of the moment in a blind panic…just when all the best decisions are made. But I read all your columns and you were the first person I could think of to give me some honest, blunt advice. As a bit of a back story, I’m not much of a drinker and come from a family that doesn’t really drink. My husband is from a family (and country) where drinking is a part of their lifestyle, holidays, dinners, everything. So over the years I have oscillated between thinking he may have a drinking problem to thinking his attitude towards alcohol is probably more the norm than mine. He is a great father and partner…responsible, engaged, hard working, who I am to judge if he wants a couple of beers with dinner?

We have a 7 month old son and I have just gone back to school part time. This evening, I got home from classes to find my precious baby on the bed in a dark room crying his little eyes out and my husband was D-R-U-N-K on the bed next to him not responding to his needs! He first told me that he hadn’t been drinking, then it was a bottle of white, then a bottle of red, then back to nothing. I sent him from the room to grab a nappy and pjs while I nursed the baby and he came back first with a towel and water bottle and when I repeated what I wanted he wandered around the kitchen aimlessly and then crashed on the couch.

All this to say, he was in no state to be caring for our child and I feel ill when I think of what could have happened.

Nothing like this has ever happened before and I’m at a loss for what to do. I have university in 3 days and have arranged alternate care for the baby but what about beyond that? Can I trust my husband to watch him ever again? I’ve left him with his father many times without a worry or second thought. Is he an alcoholic? (I know you can’t possibly know the answer to this but is this the sort of thing anyone other than an alcoholic would do?) Where do we go from here? I’m in desperate need of some advice!

From,
Middle Class Suburban Momma from a “Picture Perfect” Home

You know this column all began when I got the bright idea to write a “fake” advice column? I would solicit purposely ridiculous questions from my friends and then answer them with deliberately bad, boneheaded advice. It went on like that for awhile, and then I slowly started getting “real” questions, but always about lighthearted, non-serious stuff. Shampoo. Eye shadow. Shoes.

To this day I’m not sure how I ended up with an advice column that regularly gets questions like this. I’m not complaining, dear OP, but am just taking a few minutes to type some pointless sentences while my brain warms up enough to figure out what to say.

Okay, so I drink. My husband drinks, our friends drink, we like wine with dinner and cocktails at parties and beers at barbecues and all that. However, I have personally seen — with friends and family members — when the line between social drinking and a drinking problem blurs, and when it completely gets crossed. And it looks a lot like what you witnessed with your husband. I’m sorry.

Luckily, nothing bad happened. I mean, a baby left to sob alone in a dark room is pretty bad, but you know what I mean. He wasn’t injured or left outside or God forbid, in the backseat of the car when your husband decided to drive to a bar, or something. It is obviously of the utmost importance that nothing like that ever, ever happens. Your baby’s safety (and yours) is of the utmost importance.

What I’m wondering about is what happened the next day, after you wrote this letter, when he finally came to. Did he come clean about how much he drank? Was he horrified? Apologetic? Admit he needed help or agree to attend AA meetings or something? Give you any indication that the night before served as a wake-up call?

Or was he defensive or belligerent? Did he refuse to talk about it? Did he accuse you of exaggerating? Tell you to relax, nothing happened, what’s the big deal?

Did he once again drink multiple beers with dinner that night?

If any of the latter things happened, I’m sorry, he’s in denial and you have some very tough choices ahead of you. And a lot of alternate childcare to arrange, because no, you cannot and should not trust him. (Does your university offer any childcare for part-time students? Any friends or family you can confide in and lean on for practical help right now?)

But even if the former happened, he’s NOT off the hook or anything. Plenty of alcoholics can hit false bottoms and swear to change, but without help and support, they can backslide fairly quickly. Or simply become better at hiding their drinking from their loved ones. I would absolutely feel justified making some ultimatums here.

Please contact Al-Anon ASAP and soak up every bit of advice and guidance they can offer about what you should do next. How to help your husband help himself, while ALSO keeping your child out of the line of booze-related fire. Talk to other people who have been in similar situations with alcoholic family members, and PLEASE don’t let anyone try to shake you down with stuff like “oh, it happened ONE TIME, what’s the big deal, I’m sure it won’t happen again, nothing ‘bad’ happened, etc.” Whatever. One time, two times: the stakes are way, way too high to gamble with here. (If you haven’t already, please read this post and the accompanying comments from many other mothers and children who dealt with alcoholic spouses/parents. It’s…well, sobering.)

I hope everything works out for you, OP. I hope hope hope. Please keep in touch, because I will be thinking about you and yes, hoping for the best possible outcome.

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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22 Responses to “When Daddy’s Been Drinking, Part Two”

  1. Lindsey May 04 at 1:22 pm Reply

    First, what a crappy realization you have come to regarding your husband. Second, I’d be wondering if this was the first time he created a situation like this or just the first time he was caught. I’d say you would have to charitably and firmly point him in the direction of help and find another childcare arrangement. It probably sucks more because his being available to parent created an opportunity for you to go back to school, but them’s the breaks.

  2. Brittany May 04 at 1:42 pm Reply

    I think Amy gives good advice.  But, the thing is, people make mistakes.  Yes, this is a BIG one, and not something to be taken lightly, but just because someone gets drunk in a completely inappropriate situation one time, does not necessarily make them an alcoholic.  I’d say if Husband realizes he made a huge mistake and promises not to drink when he’s alone with the baby AT ALL, EVER, give him another shot.  I’ve never drank around my kids, but both before I had children and as a parent, I have made dumb decisions and had to deal with the consequences.  But those consequences sucked and I never made the same mistake again.  Live and Learn. 

    • Christina May 07 at 9:37 pm Reply

      I couldn’t disagree more with Brittany’s opinion. It’s not a mistake, he’s an alcoholic. No additional chances required. No promises not to drink around the baby — sounds like this is WAY past the point where he can make a promise and keep it. Alcoholism is a disease. Not a choice.

    • Anne May 09 at 12:56 pm Reply

      I think there’s a huge difference between making a mistake drinking at, say, a wedding or an outing with friends where it’s easy to get carried away and getting so drunk while home alone with your child that you pass out.  Sure, we’ve nearly all made mistakes and drank too much at some point in our lives, but how many of us can say we did so while acting as the sole caretaker of our tiny, helpless babies? Hopefully few to none. Getting drunk alone is problem drinking, full stop. As you say the husband will have to deal with the consequences of his actions, and in this case the consequences should be either getting treatment or losing his family.

  3. A May 04 at 1:58 pm Reply

    I was engaged to someone with a drinking problem and I didn’t find out until a few months from the wedding. He was from Ireland and we were in our last year of college, he didn’t drink much around me but when he did . . . oh boy. He would go until he passed out. Every. Time. I brushed it off because it didn’t happen that much! He’s Irish, for goodness sakes! We’re in college, that’s when people do this stuff! 90% of the time he was sober! But when he went back home to visit he called me drunk every day. Sometimes he would get belligerant, wondering where I was, who I was with . . . I’d never seen that side of him before. We broke up not long after. Apparently all his friends knew he had a huge drinking (and gambling!) problem, they just all thought I knew.

    My point, after that long winded bit, is that people are usually very good at hiding things like this. If he was blind drunk watching your son it may not be the first time. I personally would suggest he go cold turkey and he cannot even have ONE beer around the baby (some AA meetings might be good too). If he can’t handle that he can’t be alone with the baby.

    Big hugs to you and I hope things get better from here!

  4. kathy May 04 at 2:12 pm Reply

    First, I am so so sorry this happened to you, OP. Sending lots of hugs your way.

    I agree with Amy’s advice for the most part, but I think this is a huge deal, regardless of what happened the next day. I have a really hard time imagining any scenario in which this was a one time mistake. This was hour(s) of neglect. As someone who grew up with an alcoholic parent (one who tried to recover many many times before really being ready/able to), I’m pretty sure this would be a deal breaker for me. And it would be a long long long time before I ever left them alone again. You alone are now solely responsible for your baby’s welfare. 

    • kathy May 04 at 2:21 pm Reply

      I also want to add that this is most likely NOT something you guys can do alone. I see people suggesting that he should not be able to drink around the baby, and yes that would be a good start, but I really think you both need some outside help on this (AA, therapy, etc). You can call your Dr. or his for referrals, in addition to AA.

      I can’t tell you the number of times I found hidden stashes of beer at home when my dad was supposedly in a sober period. Or the times when I wouldn’t realize he was drinking until he kissed me goodnight and I could smell it over the gum. Drinking a really hard thing to overcome, even when one wants too.

      And of course I don’t know if your husband is alcoholic, but even if he’s not (which would honestly surprise me), he needs some major parenting guidance.

  5. C May 04 at 2:22 pm Reply

    My husband and I do not drink, so this is coming from someone with out any alcohol in the home.. But I really like Amy’s advice about the importance of him taking ownership of the situation. You were not overreacting, and it IS a big deal to YOU, and that’s what matters. (It would be a HUGE deal to me if that happened). Hopefully he takes the initiative to apologize and realizes the potential consequences of his actions on your child and your own relationship. But if he tries to lessen the seriousness of the situation or tell you how you should think or feel about what happened, that’s not okay. We all make bad decisions, and sometimes do stupid things (like checking our phone while driving) that could inadvertently put our children in harm’s way, but it seems that choosing to drink to the point of passing out while caring for your child alone should be a huge wake up call for him, at least never to touch alcohol while watching your children alone. You shouldn’t have to justify how you felt coming home to that situation AT ALL. He didn’t just doze off while watching sports and didn’t hear the baby for a few minutes. He allowed himself to drink to the point of not being able to respond at all. We all make mistakes, but I don’t want you to feel caught up in the position of having to justify/rationalize his actions and your feelings while you’re left to solve the situation on your own. Hopefully he wll be able to take ownership of his actions and earn that trust back again so you won’t be in this conflicted situation. Best of luck to you!

  6. L. May 04 at 2:27 pm Reply

    Dear Middle Class Momma,
    It breaks my heart to read your story. I grew up with an alcoholic father.
    From my own experience, I know that this situation should not be taken lightly.
    A “normal” person without a drinking problem does not say to themselves, “it’s ok to have several drinks while I am the sole caretaker of my child.” No matter what the child’s age. Your husband’s behavior speaks volumes in regards to his self control. All three of you are very lucky that no physical harm was done. Hoping and praying that you will find the strengh to help him through this.

  7. Debra May 04 at 3:09 pm Reply

    I’m speaking as someone who enjoys drinking on occasion; I have gotten tipsy very rarely and NEVER NEVER NEVER when I was the sole caretaker or potentially could be the sole caretaker for my kids. Anyone who drinks knows how much they can handle.  For me, it’s one beer or glass of wine with a meal.  That’s just about all I ever drink.  If I have more than that? I KNOW I’m impaired.  I know before I even drink that second beer what’s going to happen.  
    OP, your husband KNEW he wouldn’t be capable of taking care of his son.  He just didn’t care.

  8. Rebecca May 04 at 3:18 pm Reply

    First, I am so sorry you are going through this…speaking as the child of not one but TWO alcoholic parents, and almost married one myself… It’s not my first time at this rodeo.  

    I think most of the other comments have covered everything I would want to say…but I would like to add this:
    When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time”

    Good luck and please update us, I will be thinking about you also.

  9. Hi, I'm Natalie May 04 at 7:44 pm Reply

    My mom kicked my dad out of the house the day she came home to him passed out with two kids in the house. I was 5 and my brother was 1. It was the best decision she ever made.

    So sorry you’re having to deal with this situation.

  10. Jenny May 06 at 9:32 am Reply

    I am so sorry you are going through this. I went through something similar with my husband several years ago, and I’m glad to share parts of our story if it will help you make sense of yours. 6 years ago my husband successfully battled a very serious illness, but fell into a deep depression afterward. This is very common amongst survivors of fatal disease, a form of PTSD that no one really talks about or warns you of. He started seeing a therapist but also started drinking heavily in public and in private. To make a long story short, he went away for a long guy’s weekend and spent most of it blacked out. 24 HOURS LATER he was still drunk and as bits and pieces of his behavior came back to him, he was so disturbed and disgusted with himself that he went to the ER where he was determined to still be acutely intoxicated, and checked into an outpatient rehab program. When he started coming clean about how much and often he was drinking, I was shocked. I had been concerned about his drinking even before the health scare (there is alcoholism in his family) but afterward it really reached new levels of crazy – hiding bottles in the house? Sneaking out to bars at night? pounding malt liquor on the way home from work? Who was this person?? 
    6 years later my husband is sober, hasnt had a drop of alcohol since that raucous weekend, and he is the best, most supportive husband and such a dedicated, doting father to our new son. He is a new, better person. He has worked his ass off to change his lifestyle, his behavior, to learn to love and trust himself again, and then to earn my love and trust back. It was HARD and took years. 
    I want to share this with you to show you that a situation can improve. But – and this is a BIG but – only if your husband wants to change. I would not focus so much on whether he is “alcoholic” or not — many alcoholics fixate on whether the label fits or not and spend a lot of time arguing over whether they are or arent alcoholic. It’s a delay and denial tactic, and it’s better to just not go there with them. Just acknowledge that his behavior is a problem because it endangered your child and has made you unable to trust him. Then, focus on that one question you posed to Amy: How can I trust my husband to be alone with our child ever again? The short answer is that you cant and truly shouldnt until he takes steps to change his behavior. Amy’s questions about his attitude the next morning are key – is he remorseful? Does he care that he was so blind drunk that he endangered his son? Does he care that his actions are emotionally painful for you and impacting his marriage? If not, you need to get out and away and protect yourself and son from this person who is totally out of control. If he is ashamed and horrified and ready to make a change, help him get the help he wants and needs. And even then, it may take a long time for you to build back trust in him. Getting yourself some professional advice and support is a first step, Al-Anon is a great suggestion. 
    I’m sorry if this is a kind of rambly response, but I know how hard it is to be in your shoes and I want you to know it is not totally hopeless , but also that this is really serious and there isnot alot you can do about his behavior if he doesnt want to change. He is not your problem to fix. Until he gets professional help, you cannot leave your child alone with him. Hopefully that will be the wake-up call he needs, but it’s not your fault if it’s not. Be strong, and let us know how it goes. Thinking of and praying for you and your family.

  11. Dayna May 06 at 1:41 pm Reply

    Can I just add, I’m 100% sure this isn’t the first time this happened, and probably not the first time as your husband. It’s just that now you’re taking care of another human being so you’re seeing things from different lenses now. If he got drunk on those dinner beers and laid on the couch watching TV or something, you wouldn’t realize how out of it he was. When he has to actually be functional after drinking, *that’s* when you see the problem clearly. This can’t be anything but a patten. Glad you are getting help. You have an internet full of mommies who support you. Godspeed in your difficult journey. 

  12. Erin May 07 at 10:26 am Reply

    Oh, no. I am so sorry. I am an adult child of an alcoholic. I have been in Al Anon for three years now, and it’s an amazing program. With that said, it will not help you figure out how to get HIM to stop drinking, but it will help you help YOURSELF. We don’t give advice in Al Anon, but we do tell people that they have the absolute RIGHT to be safe. So, please have a plan to keep you and your child safe — whatever that might be. After that, see what you can learn about alcoholism and your husband’s level of drinking, find an Al Anon meeting, and take care of yourself and your child! PLEASE feel free to be in touch with me if you need to, Amy can connect us through phone or email if necessary.

    Good luck.

    Erin

  13. A. May 07 at 10:38 am Reply

    My partner struggles with alcohol abuse, and there are a couple of things I’ve learned from helping him that haven’t come up yet:

    1) Have you given any thought to what may have triggered this drinking episode? Not that it provides any excuse, but is he feeling a lot of stress or anxiety about your return to school? Has he been depressed lately? Freaked out about new parenthood? For someone who is borderline about alcohol, a downward turn rarely happens in a vacuum. Understanding what got your husband to the point where he got wasted while he was supposed to be caring for your kid will help you decide what to do next. It may be that in order to get him help with the alcohol you also need to get him help for depression, or get couples counseling to address the changing dynamics of your family life, or to deal with some other underlying factor that’s contributing to the alcohol abuse and that may get overlooked in your understandable panic about the booze.

    2) AA and Al-Anon aren’t for everybody. They have helped a lot of people, but it’s a very specific philosophy that has to resonate with you and your husband for it to work. I highly recommend looking into other resources and treatment options as well, so that if your husband feels that AA isn’t working for him, you don’t feel like you’ve reached the end of the line. There are many paths to mental health and sobriety. For my partner, weekly sessions with a good therapist were a tremendous help. A huge part of supporting your husband (if that’s what you decide to do) will be helping him find a path that works for him and for your family. It might be AA, but it might not. 

  14. A. May 07 at 10:44 am Reply

    My partner struggles with alcohol abuse, and there are a couple of things I’ve learned from helping him that haven’t come up yet:
    1) Have you given any thought to what may have triggered this drinking episode? Not that it provides any excuse, but is he feeling a lot of stress or anxiety about your return to school? Has he been depressed lately? Freaked out about new parenthood? For someone who is borderline about alcohol, a downward turn rarely happens in a vacuum. Understanding what got your husband to the point where he got wasted while he was supposed to be caring for your kid will help you decide what to do next. It may be that in order to get him help with the alcohol you also need to get him help for depression, or get couples counseling to address the changing dynamics of your family life, or to deal with some other underlying factor that’s contributing to the alcohol abuse and that may get overlooked in your understandable panic about the booze.
    2) AA and Al-Anon aren’t for everybody. They have helped a lot of people, but it’s a very specific philosophy that has to resonate with you and your husband for it to work. I highly recommend looking into other resources and treatment options as well, so that if your husband feels that AA isn’t working for him, you don’t feel like you’ve reached the end of the line. There are many paths to mental health and sobriety. For my partner, weekly sessions with a good therapist were a tremendous help. A huge part of supporting your husband (if that’s what you decide to do) will be helping him find a path that works for him and for your family. It might be AA, but it might not. 

  15. Christina May 07 at 9:45 pm Reply

    Please update us…you have the power to change your son’s life — and yours — for the better, immediately. DO NOT let him sweep this under the rug, or convince you it isn’t a big deal, hasn’t happened before, won’t happen again (all classic lies told by desperate people in the throes of the disease). As someone with 9 yrs sobriety under my belt, this reeks of classic, garden-variety alcoholism. This can be the beginning of his bottom — but it might not be — and sadly, you can’t really impact that. Your role is to take care of yourself, and therefore you son, by removing him or you/baby from the home as soon as possible. Best of luck. Please look into Al Anon.

  16. OP May 11 at 7:47 pm Reply

    Thank you Amy for posting and answering my question and thanks to everyone who took the time to give their input. I’ll give you an update since so many have been asking for one (and everyone who is very adamant that I must leave leave him/never let him watch the baby again please don’t kill me!). The next day my husband woke up and was completely horrified about what he had done. He admitted that this wasn’t the first time he had drank while looking after our son but this was the first time he had lost control and it was a big wake up call for him. He says that he is in control over whether or not to have that first drink but he has a problem with stopping once he has started and has vowed to never have even one drink while minding our son again. He hasn’t had a drink at all since then and has told his work colleagues (a lot of whom are big drinkers) that he doesn’t want to be invited to post work drinks anymore.
    He doesn’t want to attend AA as he doesn’t identify himself as an alcoholic nor does he want to speak to a counselor because he says he can control whether or not he drinks. 
    I really think (and hope) he has learned his lesson. I am vigilant about looking for signs because I’m aware of the fact that this could be a bigger problem that he is attempting to cover up. However, based on the fact that he has identified the problem and taken steps to never allow this to happen again (combined with what I know about him) I have allowed him to resume watching our son. I call him several times throughout the day (I did this before anyway) and will be able to recognize if he’s been drinking. One of my closest friends is also our neighbor so would be able to collect my son if I was ever suspicious.
    I am treating this as a one off mistake but am watching for any signs of relapse. Thank you for all the advice! I was very touched by the support and prayers

  17. Kim Feb 11 at 12:50 pm Reply

    I know I’m really late to this conversation, but I just wanted to add that, unfortunately, you probably do NOT want to contact any authorities and I would even hesitate to share too much information with any therapist/support group you seek out. Let me explain: 4 months ago my husband got black-out drunk and hit me so I called the police. Our 14 month old daughter was present but not injured, however the case was still reported to child services and he is being charged with child abuse while I am being charged with failure to protect a child! This was absolutely the first, last and only time this happened, I thought I was doing the right thing in calling the authorities and I kicked him out immediately, and yet…Needless to say my life feels completely out of control, I have lost trust in the authorities I thought were there to help and I’m due for yet ANOTHER court date later in the month, because I married an alcoholic who drank in front of our child -

  18. debbie Mar 02 at 1:26 am Reply

    i am reading this and my heart is in my throat my husband is an alcoholic in a family of alcoholics  and have encountered this but sadly i have been so depressed with ppmd, adhd symptoms and such that they have all pinned me as the problem. my family and friends have distanced themselves from me probably because i have been so paralized with the situation i have no idea what to do, i even quit a job because i had to work saterdays and came home to a drunken daddy. money is and has always ben a barrier so alternate daycare after work (they are in subsidized daycare and i have been forced to now even work with my husband who i quite literally feel like punching at least once a week)  is unaffordable for me to persue any education to support myself better. nobody seems to be volunteering assistance to keep my kids safe if i need or want to do something so i just plain dont. i guess i made my bed they think so now i must lie in it. i even went to a counselor and they just gave me medication for my adhd which didnt work i asked for talk therapy to help with the depression and life in general but they didnt call me back or return my calls.

    my advice to you from someone who has dug their hole so deep is to get out if you can, you cant change them and if they show no signs of concern and neither does their family just get out.  i should probably do it too i would pretty much have to move out of my house and sell it from under my husband as his name is not on the mortgage my dads is and my husband wont go quietly. fyi the kids both love and adore him i guess because mommy is a bitter and distracted person.

  19. debbie Mar 02 at 1:30 am Reply

    does al anon offer childcare because if i attend a meeting i doubt they want a tired two year old and a five year old attending.

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